Everyone's favourite pop-goth darling discusses her highly anticipated new album, Cape God, her most radical and powerful yet with her friend Sasha Velour.
Drag icon Sasha Velour sits down with her friend Allie X for BRICKS #7, ‘The Rise Together’ issue.
SASHA: Do you have a philosophy of fashion or style? How does that tie into your music? It goes together, from my perspective…
ALLIE: I don’t have a mission statement or anything. Honestly, I got into fashion because I hated how I looked in high school; I was so insecure about my body that I began being very creative about how I could hide it. I was tiny and everyone used to comment on it so I would wear these big oversized vests. I started to realise I’d rather people comment on, ‘oh wow that’s a weird thing you’re wearing!’ than like ‘oh my god you’re so tiny!’ or whatever they used to say to me. That’s kind of how I learnt about silhouettes in a strange way.
As I became an artist, it started to become more fun and I started to educate myself on fashion: find my favourite designers, build relationships and really get into the fantasy side of it. My fashion journey has been a transformative one. It’s an interesting thing, it’s kind of like any art form because if you get into the business side of it and the social side of it, it’s very snooty and snobby, and it almost feels like a waste of time but then when you look at the art that comes from it — that is so inspiring to me.
SASHA: It’s wild how every art form, even drag, has its bureaucratic moments that really sometimes feels like they’re gonna sour you on the creative work, but it doesn’t because the drive is too strong.
ALLIE: I think when you’re an artist it’s hard. There’ve been so many times where I’ve felt like ‘I wanna walk away, this is making me feel like shit’, but then you get back to the creating, and you’re just very, ‘ahh I can’t stop, I can’t stop, it’s too in me’.
SASHA: (laughs) I wanna know about when you were making Cape Cod, what was your headspace at that time because it feels like a shift in your music.
ALLIE: Yeah it’s a big shift, it probably sounds intentional but it wasn’t. I was promoting the Super Sunset EP, I think ‘Focus’ came out in April and my trip to Sweden was in March. I wasn’t going to Stockholm to start writing a new record.
SASHA: Oh interesting, you didn’t have a plan.
ALLIE: No no, I was just like this is a great opportunity because Oscar Görres – the producer I did the record with, he’s fantastic and is associated with Max Martin. I was like ‘oh this is great, it’s a great opportunity, I’m gonna spend five days there and maybe I’ll get a hit record with Taylor Swift’ — I don’t know what I was thinking. Then that morning, I went through my notes and found this lyric that I had written a year before, ‘I want to be near fresh laundry, it’s been too many years of not folding.’ I wondered what an interesting melody for that would be. I sang that melody for ‘Fresh Laundry’ and six or seven hours later what you hear now was written. It was just a magical session, lots of synergy I guess in the room.
SASHA: Also, I’ve said this to you — I know you don’t fully believe me — but it is my favourite album I have listened to in like four or five years, easily.
ALLIE: Oh my god! Thank you so much!
SASHA: Such, such brilliant work. I think it flows so well, I love the theme that you explore and I think it’s fresh territory for pop music. I love that you have really iconic pop moments in each song, but there’s this darkness to it as well that speaks to me, speaks to this moment, I think it is really, really amazing. So I guess there kind of was another question that I wanted to ask you about your storytelling. You’ve talked about how there are real personal elements in this album, along with fantasy and imagination, which feels like part and parcel of pop iconography, fashion, and queerness. They’re all present in your work, so I wonder if you could talk about that.
I’ve never been so confident about a body of work that I know will find its audience.
ALLIE: All my work is kind of like that, Super Sunset was the most literal record I’ve done, like drawing from recent personal experience living in Los Angeles, but still taken to a surreal place, especially aesthetically. I like to do that in my work and a lot of art is like that. You’re taking a feeling and you’re exaggerating it, or you’re creating a world, whether it be a sonic world or a world of colour or a world or words. It’s always kind of coming from some sort of truth, from an artist.
SASHA: No I totally agree, I think there really is no neutrality, that’s kind of one thing I think about. Everyone’s experience is translated through their own kind of fantasies already, so you have to, when you’re communicating a story about yourself or just something that you hope is true you have to wrap it up in fantasy because that is kind of how human beings work.
ALLIE: Yeah I mean, everyone’s perception of reality is different, we don’t really know what ‘reality’ is I guess, and that’s the same reason when I put ‘Love Me Wrong’ out. For some people it’s about a romantic relationship and for some people it’s about their struggles with their parents, for others it’s about their struggles with their addictions. I’d like to think that my songs, and definitely as a listener, that art is really open for interpretation, music really means something. The lyrics of a song can mean a lot of different things to different people, and I think that’s the way that it should be.
SASHA: ‘Love Me Wrong’ I think is my favourite song on the album with Troye Sivan – I mean I also really love ‘Regulars’ – but at the end, you reach this ecstatic point with these high notes, so epic, I’ve probably never wanted to perform a song so bad.
ALLIE: Oh my god, you have to!
SASHA: If I did it, it would be about the relationship between me in drag and out of drag, so it’s funny how you said it could be about so many different relationships, did you write it with the intention of being about parents and children?
ALLIE: Yes, that was my perspective on it, we wrote that song for a film actually, even though it fits so perfectly into the Cape God world. It didn’t make the film, it was Boy Erased which Troye (Sivan) was in, which was a film about conversion therapy. So we were writing from the perspective of a queer kid speaking to his parents in the film, but for me, even though I’m not queer, I instantly related on the level of just being different and having one relationship with my family as a kid and how as I grew up and became myself, it became difficult to maintain the same relationship because now I was different. To me it’s a song about love and how it’s not really about ‘how you treated me wrong’ it’s nothing about that, it’s about really having a love that can’t transcend anymore because circumstance has changed and how heartbreaking that is. So yeah, that’s ‘Love Me Wrong’. It can mean anything though, for anyone. I love that it’s just three words that repeat because it’s so simple but it covers such a complex range of emotions.
The lyrics of a song can mean a lot of different things to different people, and I think that’s the way that it should be.
SASHA: Well it captures the ambivalence of a lot of love and I think you’ve captured love accurately, and that’s why it works for so many different relationships. And there’s often misunderstanding, even in positive relationships I think. I feel like a lot of your work speaks to queer people very deeply and I know you’ve spoken about this before, but even listening to how you describe your journey with fashion at the beginning, and using clothes to make choices about how people are perceiving you when you are already kind of subject to their judgement and dysfunctions. That’s obviously an experience that many queer people, but also people who just are different and express themselves differently struggle with.
I want to ask a question that has been on my mind, which is — do you get nervous about releasing your albums? Do you feel stage fright about it?
ALLIE: I don’t feel stage fright. I feel pressure — industry pressure. I’ve never been so confident about a body of work that I know that it will find its audience. I just don’t know how big that audience is gonna be and if it’s gonna be enough to please the people that work for me… because it’s going to be financially ‘whatever’ y’know?’ That’s really the stuff nowadays that gets to me.
The thought of being on tour sounds thrilling, the thought of getting to have more conversations like this, where I get to talk about my record, feels like a privilege. The possibility of working with all these designers that I’m developing relationships with is all really fun and I’ve definitely reached a point in my life where I just feel very self-assured about my work. It’s more about, where do I fit in? How long do I keep this going for? How much money has been invested on me that I haven’t made back — it’s that stuff that really gets to me.
SASHA: How do you balance being creative and staying true to your creative drive, whilst also managing because I feel that burden, I don’t have an answer for it myself. You have to balance these practicalities of being a ‘working’ artist, because it requires some level of success.
ALLIE: Yeah, I don’t know what the balance is, like, I just keep going! Through my years, I’ve really become very heavily involved on the business side, which I’m proud of. However, it impedes my creativity, and I would love to take a step back which is really a goal for this year as well. I almost feel like, I’ll be more successful if I do that, if I don’t have to be in my inbox all day and I don’t have to be doing the calls with the label and the business managers. It’s two different brains, and I feel like my creative brain is being sort of ignored when I’m in that state of mind, so that’s another thing that feels relevant to the conversation that I thought I’d bring up. I wanna try to separate those two. I wanna try to savour this record, that’s my goal for the year. I have a strong belief in the work so I’m just trying to go in with the right attitude.
SASHA: Okay so I wanna know, you just did this support slot tour and you’re headed out on a Cape God tour, what’s the experience of performing this music live been like for you? What are you looking forward to?
ALLIE: Oh, really good. We’ve tried to create a more haunting vibe with the show and I’ve added a bass player, my friend Cecilia, it feels more like a proper band now. This is a record that really lends itself to live playing, we don’t really need as much in the tracks as I used to, with all my synth stuff so the show just feels more like I’m in a band. I have to say, in the fall that tour that I did, it was really gruelling but it felt like so fucking liberating. I’m not wearing heels so I’m able to dance and it feels so me — I’ve never felt so me on stage before. I just wanna keep building on that with the headline tour, that same vibe but longer set, bigger production, that sort of thing.
SASHA:. Well I want to thank you for creating such amazing music, it’s been there for me in private moments when I needed something to transport me to another world or to inspire creativity. You’re creating music that is getting people entertained in large groups, shifting and making culture in major ways, so keep on at it!
ALLIE: I really appreciate it and I will, I will keep on at it!